Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Suwondo 'victim of a scheme by political elite'

JAKARTA (JP): Lawyers for Muhammad Alip Agung Suwondo challenged on Thursday the charges against their client, arguing that the indictment failed to specify their client's alleged role in the Rp 35 billion (US$3.6 million) State Logistics Agency (Bulog) scandal.

During a session at the North Jakarta District Court to hear the defendant's rebuttal, lawyer Denny Azani B. Latief, who heads Suwondo's defense team, said prosecutors had not specified whether Suwondo instigated the crime or was taking orders from the person behind the scandal.

"It is also unclear whether this case is the same as the one now being tried at the South Jakarta District Court involving former Bulog deputy head Sapuan," Denny said.

"And if this case is not connected with Sapuan's case, then there is actually no case against our client. The judges should not have accepted the indictment, and should now set it aside," Denny said reading out the opening statement of the defense's rebuttal.

Denny maintained that Suwondo, alias An Peng Sui, a former masseur to President Abdurrahman Wahid, is a victim of a scheme by the political elite aimed at toppling the president.

He added that Suwondo was being "sacrificed" due to his past relationship with the President.

The lawyers also questioned the authority of the North Jakarta District Court to hear the trial because the South Jakarta District Court was trying a similar case.

Denny then asked for the case to be halted pending a verdict in Sapuan's trial at the South Jakarta District Court, or at least reconvened as a civil trial.

"The case centers on a debit and credit relationship between Suwondo and Bulog's employee foundation Yanatera, through Sapuan. So, if there was a crime, it should be tried in the civil courts," he said.

Suwondo is charged with violating Article 378 of the Criminal Code on fraud, Article 372 on embezzlement and Article 480 on storing stolen goods. Each article carries a maximum prison sentence of four years.

After hearing the defense's rebuttal, presiding judge adjourned the proceedings until Feb. 28, at which time the prosecutor will respond.

Suwondo, who has been ill since the start of the trial, was able to walk into the courtroom unassisted on Thursday, albeit in slow, unsteady steps.

Denny said doctors from Kramat 128 Hospital have suggested Suwondo undergo surgery next Saturday, and that his client was taking medication ahead of the surgery.

"Suwondo has delayed the surgery because he wants to attend the trial, but this time the doctors cannot wait. The doctors plan to widen an artery, but I don't know for sure," he said after the hearing. (bby)